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Bitcoin hotel hack victim speaks out

An Austrian hotel manager who went public with the fact that he had been blackmailed four times into paying a Bitcoin ransom to cybercriminals has been praised for speaking out.

Bitcoin hotel hack victim speaks out
Photo: Seehotel Jaegerwirt

The story of how hackers took control of the hotel's room locks ended up being reported all over the world from CNN and Newsweek through to The Times, CNBC, Yahoo News UK, The Verge, Gizmodo, IB Times, The Register, PC Magazine, Softpedia News, Forbes, Daily Star, the Huffington Post and The Sun to name but a few.

With relatively small amounts of money involved for most businesses that fall victim to the criminals, it is believed that thousands of firms are falling prey to the cyber criminals, but that they prefer to stay silent rather than suffer public embarrassment.

But after the manager of the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt, a luxurious four-star hotel with a beautiful lakeside setting on the Alpine Turracher Hoehe Pass in Austria, was hit a fourth time by the blackmailers he decided to go public with what happened to warn others of the dangers of cybercrime.

Managing Director Christoph Brandstaetter said he was speaking out because he wanted to see more done to tackle cybercriminals, as this sort of activity is set to get worse.

His hotel, like many others, has a modern IT system which includes key cards for hotel doors and in the latest incident cybercriminals had again hacked into his system and managed to take down the entire key system. The guests could no longer get into their hotel rooms and new key cards could not be programmed.

The attack, which coincided with the opening weekend of the winter season, was allegedly so massive that it even shut down all hotel computers, including the reservation system and the cash desk system.

The hackers promised to restore the system quickly if just 1,500 EUR (1,272 GBP) in the largely untraceable electronic currency known as Bitcoin was paid to them.

Brandstaetter said: “The house was totally booked with 180 guests, we had no other choice. Neither police nor insurance help you in this case.”

“The restoration of our system after the first attack in summer cost us several thousand Euros. We did not get any money from the insurance so far because none of those to blame could be found.”

The manager said it was cheaper and faster for the hotel to just pay the Bitcoin.

Brandstaetter said: “Every euro that is paid to blackmailers hurts us. We know that other colleagues have been attacked, who have done similarly.”

When the hackers got the money, they unlocked the key registry system and all other computers, making them all run as normal again.

The Seehotel Jaegerwirt, which has existed for 111 years, also has another, innovative, trick in store to keep the hackers out for good.

Brandstaetter said: “We are planning at the next room refurbishment for old-fashioned door locks with real keys. Just like 111 years ago at the time of our great-grandfathers.”

Using Bitcoin for cybercriminal activities is becoming increasingly commonplace, as tracing payments is much harder due to the way the cryptocurrency works.

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Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A fatal accident involving a speeding driver in the streets of Austria's capital Vienna has once again sparked the debate about illegal car racing in the country.

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A 26-year-old man sped through the streets of central Vienna in his Mercedes on a Sunday evening.

After he failed to stop at a red light he mowed into a car being driven by a 48-year-old woman. She later died in hospital.

The police had said a video recorder at the time of the accident showed evidence the driver was taking part in some kind of illegal race. Even though a Vienna court later said it saw “no evidence at all” that indicates street racing, the debate was already ignited.

Does Austria, and especially Vienna, have an illegal car racing problem?

According to the Viennese police, there are no statistics specifically for street racing. However, “there is an active racing scene in Vienna”, spokesperson Markus Dittrich told The Local.

READ ALSO: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

Estimates put the number of “members of the illegal scene” in Vienna between 800 to 1,000 people. Current hotspots are still the area around Kahlenberg, Triester Straße, the Oberlaa area and the Kagran business park.

The police measured instances of speeding and from April to August 2022, around 6,500 reports were placed in the capital and 30 driving licenses were confiscated on site.

What are the police currently doing?

“In order to take decisive action against the active racing scene, checks have been significantly increased.”

“Furthermore, coordinated traffic planning checks are being carried out by the Vienna police department and various city police commands, and the relevant municipal departments are also involved”, Dittrich said.

In August, the City of Vienna took action in one of the “hotspots” for racing, adding 65 concrete barriers to prevent races in the car park in Kahlenberg, as The Local reported.

As racers move to different areas once blocks are put in place, the police also resort heavily on the two consequences it can impose: high fines and the revocation of driving licenses.”.

READ ALSO: Vienna wants to take action against speeding drivers

Fines can reach up to €5,000 on higher offences, such as driving 40 km/h or more over the speeding limit in a city (or 50 km/h above limits on a road). In addition, driving licences can be withheld for one month or three months in the case of repeated offences.

From an excess of 80 km/h, the license is taken away for half a year.

Calls for changes in the law

The recent debate in Austria has also now brought the issue of possible changes in the law, with experts claiming that the current legislation might not be sufficient.

Illegal racing is not a crime per se, but offences such as “endangering physical safety” or “deliberate endangerment of the public” are applied. If people are killed or injured, the crime is negligence – with up to three years in prison possible for those convicted of grossly negligent homicide.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

Some are asking for “zero tolerance“, saying that the crimes should not be seen as negligence but as murder – those who drive too fast or under the influence of alcohol take a risk knowing they might kill someone.

Others, however, say that turning negligence into murder holds a trap. “Attempted murder is also punishable. So the penalty for just participating in an illegal auto race where nothing happened? In practice, for example, 12 years in prison for 350 meters of a car race on Triester Straße?” wrote Constitutional Court member Dr Michael Rami on Twitter.

Still, the head of the legal services at Austria’s traffic authority ÖAMTC, Martin Hoffer, told public broadcaster ORF: “To prove murder against someone, you, of course, have to prove the corresponding intentionality”.

“That doesn’t mean a specific intention to kill a certain person, but to seriously consider it possible (and to accept) that someone may die in that situation.” So, a racing driver may not set out to kill someone, but they acknowledge that their actions could result in somebody’s death.

That could be a realistic scenario in an illegal race – and the debate in Austria continues.

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